Monday, September 23, 2013

English: The map of Second Epistle to the Thes...
English: The map of Second Epistle to the Thessalonians Polski: Mapa miejsc związanych z 2. Listem do Tesaloniczan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the second entry in the Second Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians Bible Junkies Commentary. You can find the first entry here.  In the first entry I discussed introductory matters, such as the origin of the Church in Thessalonica, its early history with Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, and also introductory matters of scholarship, including the structure of Paul’s letters, modeled on the Hellenistic letter form, and noting such issues as whether the letter was written by the Apostle Paul. In the second entry, I give an over view of the content in 2 Thessalonians.

3. Overview of 2 Thessalonians:


As I mentioned in the first entry, Michael Gorman proposes these developments in the overall Thessalonian situation:

                1) Continuing persecution;
                2) Claims that the day of the Lord has arrived (2 Thess. 2:2);
    3) A problem with idleness (2 Thess. 3:6-15; cf. 1 Thess. 5:14) (Gorman, Apostle of the      Crucified Lord, 169-170).

There are a number of questions regarding the content of 2 Thessalonians that also impact the question of authorship. Many scholars, when they compare 1 and 2 Thessalonians, ask these basic questions:

(1) Do the extensive discussions regarding the Christian expectation of apocalyptic end in 2 Thessalonians 1 and 2 accord with what Paul has taught in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5?
(2) Does 2 Thessalonians 2 introduce new conceptions regarding the apocalyptic scenarios, especially regarding the Lawless One and the Restrainer, which do not fit with 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 (or with what Paul will write in other letters)?
(3) Does the tone of the letter and the interaction with the Thessalonians, chapters 1-3 in total, indicate the same warm relationship Paul, Silvanus and Timothy had with the Church in 1 Thessalonians, especially as seen in chapters 1-3?
Basically, content and authorship is related in this manner: do the content and tone of the letter indicate the same Paul, Silvanus and Timothy who wrote so warmly to the Thessalonians earlier or does the change in the content and tone indicate another author? 

Again, I am going to leave this question hanging and attempt to answer it more fully (and I will, to the best of my ability) when we examine content and tone in context of the actual letter. You will notice that in the breakdown of the letter, I attribute the letter to Paul (and Silvanus and Timothy), which is essential even if a scholar does not believe the letter was written by Paul. These issues can be debated and conclusions reached, but if we begin to attribute these letters to someone other than Paul, by name, this is not only confusing for readers, but hubristic. You will also notice that I have embedded questions in certain sections; these are issues I will take up in the commentary proper.

Here is a breakdown of the letter, however, with an outline of the general content for each section:

a) Salutation (1:1-2):  i) Paul, Silvanus and Timothy; ii) to the church in Thessalonica; iii) grace; this is a very similar salutation to 1 Thessalonians, though a bit longer;

b) Thanksgiving (1:3-12):
i) Thanksgiving for their faith and love (1:3)
ii) “Your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring” (1:4) à Paul sees suffering as preparing them for heaven: “to make you worthy for the Kingdom of God” (1:5)
iii) When Jesus returns, however, those who have persecuted the Church will themselves be “repaid” (1:6-8)à they will be separated from God forever (1:9-10)
iv) Paul returns to the initial theme of the Thanksgiving, praying that their faith might continue to grow through God’s power (1:11)

c) Body of the Letter (2:1-3:15):
i) Theological Teaching (2:1-16): Proper Understanding of the Second Coming
1) “As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2:1-2) à Paul begins to teach regarding Jesus’ second coming, warning especially not to be deceived by people who claim - on behalf of Paul? - that the day of the Lord has already arrived. It seems that some person or people are circulating a letter supposedly from Paul saying that the resurrection has already occurred (2:2)
2) The Rebellion and the Lawless One come first (2:3-12) à Paul states that prior to the second coming a “rebellion” will occur and at the center of it is “the lawless one” (2:3, 6, 8). Something is now “restraining” him (2:6, 7). Is the lawless one the “antichrist”? What or who is restraining him? Why?
Why would God send a “powerful delusion” (2:11)?
3) “Stand Firm and Hold Fast” (2:15) à Paul encourages the Thessalonians to remain fixed on what they have been taught, “the traditions” passed on orally or by letter; if they remain faithful, they will “obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2:14).
ii) Ethical Exhortation (3:1-15):
1) “Pray for us” (3:1-5): Paul asks for prayers for him and Timothy and Silvanus so that the “word of the Lord” might be spread everywhere and that relief from “wicked and evil” people might be gained (3:1-2). Paul is confident that God will remain faithful with them and strengthen the Thessalonians to continue to follow the apostolic teaching (3:5).
2) “Keep away from believers who are living in Idleness” (3:6-15): It seems that because of a mistaken notion that the resurrection has already occurred some believers have stopped working (3:6, 11-12). Paul insists that all who want to eat have to work, just as the example set down by the apostles themselves (3:7-10). Paul calls on imitation here also, but in this case of the model of working for a living; in 1 Thessalonians he referred to suffering as imitation of the apostles and Jesus himself (1 Thess. 2:14).
Paul argues that those who do not obey the commands of this letter be “shunned” in order that they will be “ashamed” (3:14). What is the purpose of this behavior? What would shame lead to?

d) Closing (3:16-18):
Peace Wish (3:16)
Greetings from Paul directly (3:17) à is this intended to counter the “supposed” letter of Paul spoken of in 2:2?
Grace (3:18).
John W. Martens
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This entry is cross-posted at America Magazine The Good Word

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